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Matthew Sinclair: We can't judge Israel on standards few Western countries would match

111123 Tel Aviv

By Matthew Sinclair

I worry that Mohammed Amin has fallen into a common trap with his article about how Israel treats minorities. The country quite rightly contrasts itself as a liberal Western democracy against the ugly theocracies that threaten it, and we respond by applying an entirely unrealistic standard when judging whether it fits that description.  Of course we shouldn't support any state unconditionally, but neither should we start requiring Israel to meet standards we would never insist on from our other allies.  With so many deadly threats to its existence, we need to treat the Jewish state fairly.

First he repeats the Israeli national anthem and its appeal to the particular Jewish struggle for a national homeland.  But I don't think a German who sings "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" has to have one eye on seizing the Sudetenland.  Or an Englishman who sings our national anthem really wants to go crushing rebellious Scots.  They are an appeal to national feeling; to a country's history and tradition.  Israel is a nation built on a foundation of Judaism just as surely as ours has been built on Protestantism and royal power, or Germany was built with a drive to unite the German people.  

Of course, Mr Amin may be happy with that being the anthem, but just uncomfortable people might be required to sing it in order to appear in national sports teams.  But again that kind of controversy is a normal part of the balance between building a common national identity and leaving room for diversity.  The American pledge of allegiance is currently:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

There has been an endless controversy over requiring pupils at school to say those words.  At the moment, the view of the courts appears to be that they are of a "ceremonial and patriotic nature" and therefore don't constitute an establishment of religion and violate the country's constitution.

My guess is that the more conservative readers of this site will be more sympathetic towards the idea of encouraging this expression of patriotism, and more libertarian readers will be uncomfortable with it.  But it is an entirely normal controversy for a Western state and taking the conservative option has never been incompatible with remaining a close friend of Britain.

In the Israeli case we're talking about a proposal from a member of a party which appears to only have four out of one hundred and twenty seats in the Knesset.  Mr Amin is singling Israel out to an absurd degree by treating this as such a big deal now.

His objection to the Israeli Government's demand that it be recognised by the Palestinians as a Jewish state is even less reasonable.  He is right that the demand is a relatively new one but it is being made for a reason, and Israel was established as a Jewish state for a reason.  As a place where Jews could defend themselves against the oppression and murder they had faced for centuries before its founding, not rely for their lives and liberty on the strength and goodwill of other peoples who had proven unreliable (sadly that includes us).

Israelis are now legitimately concerned that the Palestinians will recognise the State of Israel, but not relinquish their claim on it.  That the conflict will continue with a state in the Palestinian territories as a staging ground for an attempt to take all of Israel-Palestine, rather than the basis of a lasting peace.  It doesn't mean that the Jewish state can't find a home for many non-Jews as it does now.

Israel deserves to be treated fairly.  To be judged by the same kind of reasonable standards we apply to our other allies, while allowing them a proper freedom to make their own decisions as a sovereign democracy.  Using a domestic controversy over sporting teams being required to sing the national anthem, or an eminently reasonable request that their status as a Jewish state is respected, as a pretext to start threatening their status as friends and allies would be unjust and unworthy of us.


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